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Tech News

'Jurassic World Revealed' exposes the limits of Alexa games

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Turns out, I’m quite terrible at running away from dinosaurs. This is a thing I learned after playing all six chapters of the Jurassic World Revealed game on Alexa, which launches today in tandem with the movie. The first chapter is free, and you can get it by enabling the Jurassic World skill in your Alexa app.

If you choose to embark on this “interactive audio adventure,” as the creators describe it, you’ll spend anywhere between five minutes and an hour with podcaster and aspiring investigative journalist Janet Best. During this time, you play her co-producer Jesse, and you will have to identify dinosaurs, spy on characters from the movie (oh hi, Chris Pratt) and make rapid decisions when confronted with life-threatening situations.

I sat through the game on my Amazon Echo, but you can play it via anything that has Alexa embedded, including the app on Android and iOS phones. Frankly, the biggest challenge for me was actually sticking around for the whole game. I’m not the sort of person who sits for an hour to listen to a podcast — with audio-only media, I often multi-task. So I let the game play in the background as I scrolled through Instagram on my couch and, later, got ready for work. Because my attention was divided, I often missed certain clues as Best narrated our adventure for an in-story podcast audience.

That wouldn’t be a problem if I could simply hit rewind or go back to a previous chapter, but I couldn’t. When I asked Alexa to “go to previous chapter” or “go back,” nothing happened, and the game would resume. Worse, when I said “Alexa, pause,” it would skip ahead a chapter. It’s not yet clear if this is just a bug with my beta, but still, the only way to pause the game for now is to say “Alexa, stop.” Then you’ll have to start the skill again by saying “Alexa, open Jurassic World” and choosing “Resume.”

Aside from those gameplay mechanics issues, Jurassic World Revealed is a mostly enjoyable and engaging ride. It’s very well produced, and the sounds of dinosaurs roaring in the background and leaves crunching under heavy footsteps helped re-create an aural version of Isla Nublar in my living room. In my quiet apartment, it was easy to hear every little detail, but I imagine you’d need more powerful speakers to enjoy this experience in a noisier setting. Or you could fire this up on your phone and plug in earbuds. Bigger, better speakers aren’t necessary for enjoying Jurassic World Revealed, though. The sound effects were clear enough on my Echo (2nd gen).

A still from the first Jurassic World movie.

The game opens with your arrival on the island, establishing Best as the host and co-producer of your podcast. It’s set during the events of the Fallen Kingdom movie, and you learn about the ongoing efforts of the Dinosaur Protection Group

Tech News

Amazon Fire TV Cube preview: Alexa still needs work as a TV guide

June 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

When you consider the popularity of Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa and the company’s Fire TV streamers, it was really just a matter of time before the folks at the Everything Store decided to mash them up. In fact, Amazon already has, sort of: The company started down that path last year by giving Echo devices the ability to pass commands along to a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. With the new Fire TV Cube, though, Amazon is trying to break down the wall between Alexa and the content you want to see altogether. Now, we’ve only had our Fire TV Cube for about two days, and that’s just not enough time to really put the streaming box through its paces — instead, read on for our first impressions about Amazon’s new hardware and the virtual assistant that will ultimately make or break it.

The hardware

The Fire TV Cube itself is a glossy black box that, aside from the blue ring that lights up when Alexa is listening to you, looks about as nondescript as a bit of home theater kit can be. (It’s also not strictly speaking a cube since its sides are different lengths — what gives, Amazon?) I’m not much of a fan of the glossy finish, but it’s here for a reason: there’s an omnidirectional IR blaster inside that gives the Cube the power to control some of your more traditional, non-smart home theater equipment. (Stick around for the full review for more on this; my current test setup consists of a 65-inch TV and not much else.) You’ll find an HDMI-out around back along with a port for an IR extender and a microUSB port you can use to connect a full-sized ethernet adapter. There’s also 16GB of storage inside the box, which is double what you’d get out of any other Fire TV.

Gallery: A closer look at the Fire TV Cube | 10 Photos 10 +6

While most Amazon Echo devices use an array of seven far-field microphones, but the Fire TV Cube has eight. The extra mic is said to be helpful for listening for Alexa’s wake-words because the Cube is meant to sit much closer to your television and sound system and probably has to deal with more ambient sound than a standard Echo. Amazon says its voice recognition algorithm has been tuned to be more “hostile” to the sounds of movies and television shows, and so far, the Cube has done well at hearing wake-words I’ve uttered from across the room.

TV, but hands-free

There’s a traditional Fire TV remote in the box, but Amazon seems fairly insistent that you can get by just fine without it. So far, that mostly seems to be the case: once you’ve breezed through the setup process (complete with jaunty music and a

Gaming News

Alexa Is a Pretty Crappy TV Remote, for Now

June 21, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

Plenty of companies want to build the centerpiece for tomorrow’s smart home. Amazon has a head start, too. Tens of millions of Americans now own Echo devices, and Alexa now has tens of thousands of skills. Adding a voice assistant to any TV, I’ve always thought, could be a game changer. And now, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube does just that. Is it a game changer? Not yet.

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The $120 Fire TV Cube is a wacky mashup of a Fire TV and an Echo—with some completely new features to boot. It does everything that a regular old Fire TV dongle does, but it can also enable you to control your TV with your voice. Say, “Alexa, turn on the TV,” and the TV turns on. Say, “Alexa, play the movie 9 to 5,” and Alexa will do the work of finding it, seeing if you get it for free, and letting you how to purchase it if you don’t. The experience is designed so that you never have to touch your remote, and after a few days of using the device, I can say that this is true. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to touch my remote, though.

One problem with voice assistants is that they’re a little slow. This always bugged me about using an Echo to control the lights in my apartment. Walking in the door and saying “Turn on the lights” just wasn’t as fast as slapping the switch on the wall. Then again, it was very convenient when I was going to bed, the switch was on the other side of the room, and I could just shout to turn them off. Life is a maze of trade-offs and conundrums.

When it comes to watching TV, though, the wait really sucks. It takes two or three beats for the Fire TV Cube to register and then perform your command. So if you’re looking for a movie to watch, you can see eight at a time on the newly designed, voice-ready user interface, but to see the next eight you have to ask Alexa to show them to you and wait a second for her to do it. This is a really simple complaint, but it’s also a big one for me.

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Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

The Fire TV Cube also suffers from all the other familiar Alexa problems, too. Sometimes, the artificially intelligent software simply doesn’t understand what you’re saying. In a demo, an Amazon rep asked Alexa to show some dramas. Alexa pulled up some Thomas the Tank Engine videos. When I got home to test the device, I asked Alexa to go back 30 minutes in a movie. Alexa showed me a selection of movies with titles like 30 Minutes or Less.

To simplify things, Amazon has introduced a new numbered menu so that you can say “Alexa, pick number one” instead of “Alexa, pick Y Tu Mamá También”—presumably so that there’s a lesser chance the AI assistant will misunderstand you. The process still feels clunky, and I still felt like I was saying “Alexa” way too often. But misunderstands aren’t specific to Alexa. Google Assistant and Siri suffer from similar shortcomings. It just doesn’t make it any less frustrating, when you just want to surf through some sweet content.

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So I’ll keep my remote close by, for now. It’s just faster and more dependable. Maybe I’m old fashioned to cling to my buttons and my phone, when I want to control my TV, but I want to think I’m also being practical. It’s handy to tell Alexa to turn on the TV and show me David Bowie movies, when I walk in the door and want to watch Labyrinth as soon as possible. The Fire TV Cube can do this well. Most of the time, though, I want to browse through the free movies and watch something terrible. The Fire TV Cube sucks at this.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

If you were already thinking about buying a Fire TV, however, you should definitely consider spending an extra $50 on the Fire TV Cube. By owning it, you will definitely get all the great perks of owning a Fire TV, because the new Cube works just like a standard $70 Fire TV dongle, including support for 4K and HDR content. You can still buy the standard Fire TV, too, but the Cube will set you up for the voice-controlled future we’ve been promised. The bright side is that the device’s slow software can probably be improved with a software update, and as Amazon loves to say, Alexa is always getting better. So the Fire TV Cube might get better soon, too.

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Though by buying this Echo that’s not quite called an Echo, you will still be installing several always-on microphones and potentially inviting the Jeff Bezos privacy pirates into your home. Nightmares could follow. But hey, like I said, life is a maze of trade-offs and conundrums.

README

  • Comes with all the great features of a Fire TV plus some new Alexa abilities
  • Voice control is much slower than using an actual TV remote
  • Alexa struggles to understand commands, for now
  • Costs significantly more than a $70 Fire TV

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Tech News

'Westworld: The Maze' is a choose-your-own-adventure Alexa game

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

HBO

Consider yourself a Westworld superfan? Now you can prove it. Ahead of the season finale, HBO is launching its first full-scale Alexa voice skill with Westworld: The Maze, an immersive voice experience that challenges fans to demonstrate their knowledge of the sci-fi western through a choose-your-own-adventure game.

You’ll play an unnamed Westworld host throughout three levels with more than 60 storylines and 400 unique game choices. Answer riddles and ask the right questions, and if you know your stuff, you’ll make it to the center of the maze.

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The game uses the series’ complete sound library, with character favorites Bernard and Clementine making appearances throughout. There’s more than two hours of unique gameplay at hand, although you should be able to complete it in about 20 minutes if your knowledge is up to par and you stay alive that long. To get started, tell your device, “Alexa, open Westworld.” Here’s a tip, show the folk you meet some respect, and remember, everything could be a clue.

Tech News

Alexa and Echo will arrive in Italy and Spain later this year

June 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

AOL

Amazon’s plan to put Alexa everywhere is extending from homes to hotels and, soon, the Mediterranean. It will bring Alexa and the various Echo devices to Spain and Italy later this year. Sonos and Bose will also start selling their Alexa-enabled devices in those countries before the year’s out.

In the meantime, Amazon is encouraging developers to start creating skills in Italian and Spanish. There’s no use having a smart voice assistant on hand if it can’t do a whole lot, after all. Amazon is also opening an invite-only preview for hardware manufacturers who want to bake Alexa into devices they plan to sell in the two nations.

Extending Alexa’s reach throughout Europe follows Amazon’s launch of the voice assistant and Echo in France this month. The company built a new Alexa experience to align it more with French culture, news, weather and other information, and it seems likely it will do the same for Spanish and Italian. A Spanish version, in particular, could boost Alexa’s growth rapidly given its status as one of the planet’s most commonly spoken languages. Amazon didn’t say when exactly Alexa would reach the sunny shores of Spain and Italy, other than to say it will happen this year.

Tech News

Amazon launches Alexa for hotels

June 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Amazon

Visitors to Marriott hotels will soon be able to use Amazon Alexa to make their stays more enjoyable. “Alexa for Hospitality” lets guests ask Alexa — via an in-room Amazon Echo — for help with hotel information, booking guest services, playing music and managing room controls, such as lighting and temperature.

We’ve seen hotels leverage Alexa before — in 2016 Wynn’s Las Vegas hotel installed an Echo in all 4,748 of its rooms, letting guests control environmental conditions with vocal commands. The Marriot partnership takes things further, giving the hotels the option to configure and customize voice-first features based on their specific property and guest offering. You’ll be able to use Alexa to book a massage if the hotel has a spa, for example, or ask Alexa where the gym is located, if it has a fitness center. Hotels can also choose to give their guests access to thousands of Alexa skills that can help with other aspects of traveling, such as checking flight times or local public transit systems.

Personalization is also on the cards. Alexa for Hospitality will eventually allow guests to temporarily connect their Amazon account to the Echo in their room so they can play their own music from services including Amazon Music and Spotify, or listen to audiobooks via Audible. When they check out, their account will be automatically disconnected from the device.

The system has been built to work with existing hotel technology, so locations won’t need to retrofit or upgrade anything, but whether or not you’ll get to try it out during your summer holidays will depend on where you’re heading. It’s arriving at Marriott hotels in Charlotte, NC, and Irvine, CA, first, with other hotel locations “by invitation” from today, before rolling out internationally later this season.

Tech News

Amazon makes it easy to share the Alexa skills you create

June 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Bloomberg via Getty Images

In April, Amazon introduced Alexa Skill Blueprints, a way for anyone to customize certain Alexa skills without having to code. Now, the company has made it easier to share those skills with others. The growing list of templates include blueprints for trivia, dad jokes, flashcards and info for your babysitter or pet sitter. Just fill in the templates with the information you want to include and the new skill will be available on every Alexa-enabled device on your account.

Now, if you want to share that list of dad jokes with your dad on Father’s Day or send your flashcards to everyone in your study group, you can do so through email, text, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Just head over to the Skills You’ve Made page, select the skill you want to share and then click the Share With Others link under the Skill Actions section. You can then choose how you want to share the skill. Later, if you decide you want to keep the skill to yourself, you can revoke others’ access.

If you’re on the receiving end of a skill, you’ll get a notification with a link. Click it and you’ll be taken to a detail page in Skill Blueprints where you can read about it and decide whether to enable it. You can also disable it whenever you like through the Alexa App.

You can read more about Alexa Skill Blueprints and how to share them here.

Image: Amazon

Tech News

Dish expands Amazon Alexa voice control of its set-top boxes

June 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Mike Blake / Reuters

Last year, Dish launched an Amazon Alexa skill for its Hopper and Wally set-top boxes that allowed users to change the channel, search for shows or control playback with their voice. Now, the company is expanding its Alexa capabilities with the ability to set recordings, launch apps such as Pandora or Netflix and navigate Home, Guide, DVR, On Demand, Settings and Help menus on Hopper boxes.

You can see full list of Alexa integrations over on Dish’s website, along with setup instructions to connect your Alexa-capable device to your box. It’s always nice to see functionality added to our existing devices, and hands-free voice control is never a thing we’re going to complain about.

Tech News

Alexa unofficially works on your Apple Watch

June 7, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Even though Siri’s getting a massive update in iOS 12 later this year that makes it far more versatile, it’s not quite the most powerful voice assistant around at the minute. Until now, it was the only one available on Apple Watch. If you’ve wanted to use Alexa on Apple Watch, though, third-party app Voice In A Can brings Amazon’s tool to the device.

This is a standalone app, so you don’t need your phone around for it to work, only a data or WiFi connection. Developer Damian Mehers recommends adding the app as a Watch complication for easier use. Once you’ve installed Voice In A Can and linked it to your Amazon account, Alexa can do Alexa things on your Watch.

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There are some limitations: it can’t play music, audiobooks or podcasts. Some daily flash briefings don’t work either. You can, however, control smart home items you’ve linked to Alexa and take advantage of its other features. Annoyingly, your Watch will disconnect from Alexa when the screen goes black, so you might want to increase the timeout limits. Since you’ll need to have the screen awake and to tap a button to activate Alexa, that shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

It’s not unfeasible that Amazon will add official Apple Watch for Alexa down the line, with more integrated functionality, but at least this works for the time being. Just note that Voice In A Can ($1.99 in the App Store) could vanish if Apple or Amazon decide they don’t like it.